Vallejo declares VMT/Orcem appeal abandoned

[Editor –  More:   View the Attorney General’s scathing 13-page letter.  For opponents’ perspective, see Fresh Air Vallejo.  For official project documents, see Vallejo’s City website.   – R.S.]

City looking to set special hearing

Vallejo Times-Herald, By John Glidden, April 10, 2019 at 6:33 pm

Apparently, tired of waiting to receive cooperation from Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT), City Hall sent official notice on Wednesday informing representatives with VMT and Orcem Americas that city staff determined the project application has been abandoned.

Staff wrote that the lack of information and collaboration from VMT is preventing City Hall from finalizing the project’s final environmental impact report (FEIR) and presenting it before the City Council for certification under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“As you know this is required for the VMT/Orcem Project. Without clarity or cooperation from VMT, the City has now determined that the VMT/Orcem Project application has been abandoned,” wrote Snannon Eckmeyer, assistant city attorney. “City staff intends to recommend denial of the appeal.”

Release of the city’s letter comes just a day after all three sides failed to meet as previously scheduled. Krista Kim, the attorney representing VMT principals Alan Varela and William Gilmartin, informed city staff and Orcem via an email sent out at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday morning that a calendar error would cause her to skip Tuesday’s meeting.

“I was going to attend on VMT’s behalf but I just got back from vacation this morning and realized my flight to DC is actually Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., rather than Wednesday at 6 a.m. as I had on my calendar,” Kim wrote in an email shared with the Times-Herald.  “Thus, I am actually heading to the airport in an hour or so and regret having to send this late cancellation.”

That, in turn, caused Orcem Americas President Steve Bryan to cancel his Tuesday morning flight from Houston to Sacramento.

“I assumed the meeting had been cancelled and I cancelled my flight and returned home,” Bryan wrote in an email to City Manager Greg Nyhoff after receiving Kim’s message.

City Hall wasn’t amused, re-iterating VMT continually failed to provide information about its control of the South Vallejo land both businesses hope to build on. In addition, city staff said they have sought Varela’s and Gilmartin’s signatures on an indemnification and assignment and assumption agreement, which staff say is needed to continue the appeal.

“Without clarity from VMT on if it wants to proceed with the application appeal process, the City cannot determine if several of the mitigation measures we have discussed are feasible,” staff wrote. “We have not received the barge implementation strategy and fleet management plan data from VMT, which is also necessary for certain mitigation measures. Neither VMT nor Orcem signed the reimbursement agreement necessary to complete the environmental justice analysis and to release the associated funding.”

All three sides met on March 26 to discuss the various topics, including VMT’s claim that city leaders are confused over the metes and bound descriptions regarding the city ground lease between Vallejo and VMT, and another section of land, Parcel 1, which VMT says it owns in fee.

According to the same city letter, both sides agreed to meet again in April to allow VMT time to gather the appropriate documents.

“At that (March 26) meeting, the VMT applicants requested we meet in person on April 9, 2019, to which you all agreed. The purpose of the delay was to allow all of you time to gather documents to support your position and bring resolution about how to move forward,” the letter reads.

However, Tuesday’s meeting never took place, due to Kim’s “error.” Attempts to reach Kim were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

Reached by email on Wednesday, Bryan said Tuesday’s meeting can be rescheduled.

“The more critical issue is that the City Attorney has now hired outside counsel to challenge VMT as to whether they even own the General Mills property,” Bryan wrote. “Seven years into the process the City suddenly does not accept that VMT owns the property project is on. The resolution of that issue has to be everyone’s urgent priority, before anything else.”

City Hall also released the unfinished draft version of the updated FEIR on March 26, stating that without the needed information from the VMT, the document is incomplete.

“The city has acted reasonably in all its attempts to get the parties to finalize outstanding issues. We have attempted to communicate with you on numerous occasions to try to get you to finalize the joint-applicant appeal,” staff wrote in a letter sent to VMT and Orcem on Wednesday. “We have received minimal communication from any of you on any of our requests.”

Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) wants to build a deep-water terminal, while Orcem Americas is seeking to build a cement facility. Both projects would be located on the same 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St. next to the Mare Island Strait in South Vallejo.

The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall said at the time.

City officials argued in 2017 that since a rejection was being recommended, a FEIR was not required. At the time, city leaders called the first iteration of the document a draft FEIR.

Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and in June 2017 when reviewing the appeal, a majority of the then-council directed City Hall to complete the impact report.

Since then, numerous agencies have issued letters of concern with the project as they reviewed the first version of the DFEIR.